4+ months anywhere in Europe - but where?

This is one of the best travel forums for Europe that I have found, so I will pose my questions here and see what happens. I have read here that I should be detailed - you have been warned.

Oh, and I have been a Rick Steves fan since 1996 when I discovered his PBS marathon and over-planned for my first trip to Germany. I still have those VHS tapes. I am surprised this is the first time I have used this forum.

BACKGROUND: I am a single retired male, 61, not in great shape (but trying), on a reasonable but by no means lavish pension. Thus I have more ambition and time than youth and money. I have read books, I have maps/guides galore, I have a plethora of diverse websites, and so much information that I am overwhelmed to the point of paralysis.

I am traveling solo, and there is no one available at this time to help plan. Solo travel is going to be WAY easier than solo planning.

I have some understanding of German and Spanish, only barely enough to mention. I have spent time in Germany in summer, but that is it for my European exposure (and I was with natives, so I was essentially on guided tours). I don't see how I can "pack light" as I must lug a CPAP machine and pack for diverse weather, so there is no way for me to fit everything in one bag on my back (unless I break out the old 90 liter backpack, which is ugly, heavy and screams tourist, but it IS an option). I am going in the off/shoulder season for all the obvious reasons.

(This could easily branch into "packing/wardrobe", "elder travel", “solo travel”, “travel partners”, “budget travel”, “slow travel” – but not yet. Believe me, I have been trying to do all of that at once and it is not working!)

TRAVEL DATES: February – June 2015 flexible (Using Freq Flier miles so I can afford to eat penalties for changing flights). I will plan on plenty of time out of Schengen zone so will not exceed my 90 days.

WHERE: Well, that’s the problem. I will begin in Northern Germany with friends and family (Landstuhl, SE of Frankfurt), and wish to end up in UK/Ireland/Scotland in May/June - but after that I am floundering. I have four+ months and want to spend at least a week in each place I go. I would like to explore as many new regions as possible, BUT I want it to be leisurely (not blitzkrieg tourism). Renting apartments and AirBnB vs. daily hotels is my current “plan”. I don't think I fit into hosteling, but I have never tried so I do not rule it out.

I have this vague itinerary:
Escape N European winter for warmer climes in the Med: Crete and Rhodes are popping up. Perhaps S Italy, Spain or Portugal. It gets even more amorphous after that…

Moving north into N Italy/Spain, S France, Croatia, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Coastal/N France, UK/IE then back to Germany in June (France and Benelux from there).

Now if that does not sound like blitzkrieg tourism, I don’t know what does. If I must narrow down: N Germany/Benelux, Prague, Aegean, Tuscany, S France, UK, and Ireland. But I am a newbie, so I am VERY open to suggestion.

All I know at this time is that I AM going… I absolutely must get out of this comfort zone.
I am looking to this experienced crowd for suggestions, and help narrowing destinations and timing.

Thank you for your patience with an old dog trying to learn new tricks.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
12885 posts

The only new trick I want to mention at the moment is the visa - or actually visa waiver - requirement of no more than 90 days in the Schengen area of 26 countries within any 180 days.

That's 90 days cumulatively, not for each country, and it can be broken up as you see fit by visits to non-Schengen countries. It looks like you probably have that taken care of, but if you need more help on this issue, or which countries are included, or what constitutes "a day", come back with questions...

Posted by Susan
Prince George, BC, Canada
144 posts

How exciting, > 4 months in Europe! I'd add Sicily to your list of southern locations, especially in the winter months. We were in Burgundy/Alsace area of France in late April/early May in 2011, and it was fabulous - weather was great, food wonderful (..of course!), and it wasn't too busy. I don't think you can go wrong, no matter what your itinerary ends up looking like. You didn't say if you were driving or not.

I wouldn't rule out hostels. Many are upscale and very comfortable. Do some research and develop a "possibilities" list. We have friends (+55) who use them regularly.

We are now staying longer in each location (4-10 days), rather than just a night or two. You unwind a bit more and get to know the immediate area around your base - it's way more interesting and a lot more relaxing. One suggestion is that if you look at your time (4 months = 16 weeks), and you stay a week (or more) in each location, you could have at least 16 different locations in which to base yourself. Pick a spot that is in easy travel distance by car/bus/train to things that interest you.

Use this trip as an experiment for your next trip. You can always go back.

Posted by Marco
Oxford, United Kingdom
2048 posts

The OP includes the following phrase so he seems au fait with the principles of Schengen:

"I will plan on plenty of time out of Schengen zone so will not exceed my 90 days"

Posted by Gretchen
Andover, MA, USA
434 posts


I have a few more questions that may help us help you better. First - what types of activities do you prefer? Architecture? Museums and Churches? Hiking? Photography? People-watching? How do you want to spend a majority of your time?

Do you prefer smaller cities and towns? Large Citiies? A Mixture of both? Do you want to spend time on the beach?

Also, you stated you are working with freq. flyer miles, but it seems you are returning to Germany at the end of your trip. Are you going back there to see family/friends once more before leaving? If not, have you considered flying home from say, Paris or London? Flying into one city and out of another may cut down on your backtracking. However, this obviously depends upon your FF miles.

Many here will probably suggest trying to make a circle to minimize backtracking (either clockwise or counterclockwise). Why don't you try plotting out all your choices on a map and see what it looks like. Then, you can start narrowing it down. Perhaps you could go from Germany towards Austria, Czech Rep., Croatia, etc. Then over towards Italy, So. France and Spain for some warmer weather, then up to France then Great Britain. You could go home from there. Adding in Crete should be possible along the way.

:) Enjoy!

Posted by gone
2081 posts


i would get some travel books and start googling on what you want to go/do/see things. That way you can have a vague idea on where you may want to go. If not, you can really wing it, but in my opinion, you would probably waste alot of your time trying to figure out where you want to go from where youre at.

I would try to go to places i had some interests and mix in places that maybe werent as much so.

you have some time to get an overview of the places and i would use it.

as far as you CPAP to lug around, thats something you will need to figure out. But if it was me, i would learn how to pack light(er) and go. Its just something you will need to do no matter what. If there is any technology improvements in the CPAP machines - lighter-better-faster-smaller, then you may want to look into buying/renting/borrowing/stealing one.

When it comes to "blitzkrieg tourism" thats relative. Whats slow to someone is warp speed to someone else. You can plan down time (hours, days, weeks) into your trip, its just that many choose not to. I do. I just dont plan my days to be full.

even if you have 4+ months to travel i would still get an idea on where to go/do/see things to maximize your time.

happy trails.

Posted by James E.
3846 posts

Here’s my thought on where to be in what time of the year.
a. Go south: in February you can’t go far enough south in Europe to wear shorts in February. Crete has wonderful beaches and Mediterranean food on lovely outdoor terraces; but in February you aren’t going to enjoy them.
b. Go north: Since Central and Northern Europe have to deal with such long cold seasons each year they have found ways to capitalize on the season. Outdoor winter sports and indoor theater to name a few.
a. Go south: April starts warming up and things begin to be perfect in the south and its June when things are hopping in Mediterranean climates. Now go and enjoy it to its fullest.
b. Go north: Not that it isn’t nice, but it won’t be Crete.

So I would spend February and March in the coldest place on your list and May and June in the warmest; and capitalize on the best both have to offer.

Then with some interests we can narrow it down……

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
5779 posts

You live in Sacramento, so you're in luck! We have a Rick Steves group that meets at 10:00 a.m. on the 3rd Saturday of each month at Panera Bread, 3571 North Freeway Blvd. Sacramento.

We are a group of experienced travelers and we would be happy to help you with your plans if you'd like. Look for the meeting announcement posted under General Europe, probably next week.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
3398 posts

A few tips based on my own similar experience.

After a couple/three of months, you will get weary of the travel, eating out and living out of a suitcase. Fighting that fatigue becomes more a challenge, so be prepared for it. I found myself needing more "downtime" and some days that I didn't really do anything. Find things that you can get at the groceries to snack on or even make a meal out of to avoid eating out all the time. But on the whole, it is amazing.

I found that interchanging short visits with long stays worked well. Have a week of blitzkrieg one and two nighters, then spend a week or two in a larger city. Having the long stays allows you to settle in, find a nice restaurant that you can go back to several times, shop in the local markets and not feel guilty about taking a day to just do nothing.

Staying in some apartments will help the fatigue as living in hotels and hostels gets old quickly. Do that as much as you can with your longer stays. But hotels and hostels can be a great way to meet fellow travelers and avoid loneliness.

The changing seasons is an issue, especially with luggage. But for the most part, you won't encounter many "warm" days so stick with longer sleeve, warmer clothing that can be layered. A good, versatile jacket is essential. Add a sweater and long sleeve shirt for colder days. Try to avoid a thick coat. On warmer days, just push up the long sleeves to keep cooler. Expect to do laundry at least once a week. Look for apartments with a washer and hopefully a dryer (or combo). Sink washing for delicates and laundromats will be a regular part of your life.

Posted by Susan
Marin County/San Francisco
3879 posts

Andrea is right... go to the Sac meeting, you couldn't meet a nicer and more helpful group of people.

As far as "After a couple/three of months, you will get weary of the travel, eating out and living out of a suitcase"... Not me. I've done 2 and 3 month trips many times and never, ever got tired of it. In fact, I was always sad when the trip ended and I had to go home. We're all different.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
4427 posts


As long as you are aware of the time constraints imposed by Schengen and as such plan accordingly, I must say you are one lucky guy traveling solo with an itinerary lasting say 4.5 months. Unless you must fly out by Feb. (ticket wise), I would plan the trip around mid-May to mid-Sept. Is that a possible option? That way you have a better chance of avoiding the cold., ie bringing lighter jacket, etc. Basically you're planning for summer trip from May to mid-Sept.

Since the trip is lengthy (I can only envy you here), I would not rule any travel means, ie, staying in hostels, taking night trains, taking the ferry, buying some discounted train tickets (keep in mind you're sacrificing flexibility, depends on how much you're willing to give up), getting a rail pass ( again, depends on the way you travel, destinations, and mostly, the type of Pass, etc.)

No such thing as not fitting into hosteling at a private hostel, even at HI hostels. . It doesn't have to do with age. You're a few years behind me and I still do hosteling at least a couple of times in any given trip. Aside from price staying at hostels does have certain advantages, ie laundry facilities, good, cheap hot food at dinner, cost less than 7 Euro, very helpful staff. If the hostel is located close to the train station, even better.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
4427 posts

One last question: where in north Germany do you plan on going? Both big cities and towns? Berlin, Kiel, Leipzig, Dresden, Hamburg, Naumburg an der Saale, Weimar, Stralsund, Schwerin, Breman, Lübeck, Münster/Westfalen, etc. Any particular priority or overriding interest in north Germany?

Posted by Martin
448 posts

One last question: where in north Germany do you plan on going?

Looks like nowhere:

I will begin in Northern Germany with friends and family (Landstuhl, SE of Frankfurt),
Escape N European winter for warmer climes.

Posted by Ed
9110 posts

To add to the confusion: how did Landstuhl get to be SE of Frankfurt? :)

Posted by Ed
9110 posts

With a stack of free flights, the Schengen issue, clothes for multiple seasons, the relative semi-uniformity of Europe, and a bunch of time -- the project screams equator-hopping.

Posted by Linda
Savannah, GA, USA
103 posts

Look into getting a purpose designed travel Cpap. I found one for my mother that even has a battery pack (though that adds weight). It's much smaller than the standard one, and it has even come in handy at home during power outages.

Posted by Karen
Santa Rosa, CA
777 posts

Buy a map of Europe, post it on a wall, and as you start reading about interesting places, mark the map with sticky notes, or colored dots. From there you will start seeing a potential route that will make sense. You will also see where you might centralize yourself for day trips, or other options that are just too far out of the way.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
6320 posts

I agree with Susan. I've traveled for as long as five months in Europe (before Schengen rules) and it never got old. I do think using various types of accommodations is a good idea.

What does get old fast is lugging suitcases with things you don't need. Plan to layer, and maybe spend the money to send a box of stuff home when you move to a different climate. Also, you can buy some clothes as you go (a sweater or shirt) that make a great reminder of your trip.

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
5848 posts

Many places give senior discounts to the over-60's. In Spain you can buy a Tarjeta Dorada (Gold Card) for about €6 that will give you 25% (weekend) or 40% (midweek) discount on train tickets. It's not as much savings as buying 3-4 months in advance, but it can be useful. Ask at every sight if there's a discount - sometimes they are only for EU residents but sometimes they're for everyone - or they'll give it to you anyway. It's good to have your driver's license handy to use as photo ID, definitely easier than pulling out a passport.

Hostels are not just for the 20-somethings. Use hostelworld.com for research. There are reviews as well as a complete list. Many (most? all?) have single rooms available, but you usually have to reserve those in advance. Don't be afraid to make reservations. Just be sure when booking that you pay only when you get there and note the latest date for no-penalty cancellations, in case your plans change.

I'd start in Spain, especially Andalusia - the warmest, driest climate in Europe. February is low-season, so fewer lines and cheaper prices for hotels. From there I'd probably head to Italy, also better weather in Feb-March. Then up through the eastern-most countries you mention and then to Germany, Netherlands, Belgium (or skip it) and Paris. You can get cheap Eurostar ticket from Paris to London if you buy 120 days in advance. Just work out when your 90 Schengen days will be up and book the ticket. If you must start in Germany, then look into budget flights to Spain.

After all that, here's another thought. You're retired. You can do this again in another year or so, right? So don't try to see it all this time. Figure Spring 2015 and then Fall 2016. Spend more time in fewer countries. I'd plan 3-4 weeks in Spain, 3-4 weeks in Italy, then spend the rest of the 90 days in Germany, Amsterdam, Belgium and Paris, ending in the UK and Ireland. Second trip - the eastern countries early in fall and then back to Germany (and other places) for the Christmas markets, etc.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
3398 posts

I agree with Susan. I've traveled for as long as five months in Europe (before Schengen rules) and it never got old.

Just to be clear, I only meant that there can be a level of travel fatigue that sets in after a few months. I at least, needed to adjust my schedule and habits to avoid it becoming more than a minor issue. It's only a warning to expect it might happen and be prepared for it. It's not unlike museum fatigue.

What did I mean by "travel fatigue"? For one, there were days that I just didn't want to eat a two hour dinner starting at 8:00. Or even figure out which restaurant I should go to. So I learned tricks to adjust on such days. Like having snack foods with me. Learning the common street foods where I was. Even finding local "fast food" joints that I could get a quick meal. Or going back to the same restaurant a few times (which is an interesting experience in itself as the staff begins to remember you and treat you differently).

Another tip: keep a daily journal. After a couple of weeks you will not remember specifics of what you did or when. And the journal will be a treasure for years to come. It can be as brief or detailed as you want, but even a listing of the things you saw and did is really helpful.

Posted by Joel
Sacramento, CA USA
38 posts

Wow. I mean WOW! What an amazing and immediate response, and everyone so helpful, this group is the best!
Of course I drop the questions and then leave for a week. Sorry about that. Last night I tried to address each post in order but there are so many that I will rethink and rewrite in some more concise way. Thanks all, “I’ll be back”.
But first, thanks Andrea. I am delighted to hear there is a local Rick Steves group. I can’t make this month but I will make a point of it in October! I will bring maps!

Oh, and is there a way to get directly to this thread from my RS login? I got the emails of each post but had to navigate through to forums > Gen Europe > find my specific post in the list in order to comment. I have to login again to comment.

Posted by James E.
3846 posts

Where to go

  1. There are good books and websites that list Festivals and Special Occasions around the world. Events always add to a trip. Example, Mohacs is worth the effort, but only on one day each year.

  2. Go where the weather works for you. Look at more than north or south. Example: Average Temperature in Crete in February is 54F and it rains 11 days out of the month. Not my idea of a Mediterranean experience. On the other hand Orthodox Christmas in Moscow is amazing, even if it is -10F.

Where to stay

  1. There is another post about spokes of a wheel or some such description where the question was about setting up camp someplace and taking shorter trips from the location. We do that sometimes and it is the only way I could spend 4 months in Europe. I would have to have a home to go back to .............. or maybe 4 or 5 homes over the course of the trip. I would suggest an apartment so you have a place to wash clothes (to travel lighter) and a place to rest and to save on some costs as well.


1. Layer and you can get through most seasons. A good pair of long
johns goes a long way and you can put lighter clothes over them.
When it warms up toss the long johns if you want and replace them in
your bag with gifts.
2. For an outer coat look for Goose Down. Extremely light weight and
extremely warm and you can put it in one of the roll up compression
bags and it will pack down to a tiny fraction of its expanded size.
If you stay in an apartment with a washer and dryer you don't have
to bring as much.

1. Try a mid sized backpack and a hard shell carry on. The hard shell
is to protect the gifts. The backpack is for day trips.

How to plan it

  1. Make a list of all the places and events then go to Google Maps "Get Directions" input them so you can see where they are and the relative distances between them. Then look for groupings with central points for your home base and remap each group.
Posted by Joel
Sacramento, CA USA
38 posts

My attempt to answer all questions:

My schedule is flexible but dependent upon when my grand-nephew and family will still be in Germany. He’s in the service assigned to the LRMC until May/June. I don’t want to spend the summer simply because I have done that and now want to avoid the crowds and be more relaxed.

Thanks for all the ideas on destinations, lodging, etc… I am now revisiting my inner-most desires for the trip. I don’t have to go everywhere I haven’t been, I will be back. Also I am not allergic to cold and weather, I just thought it would be fun to head south when others were not. I have been in CA too long so I also need a new winter wardrobe. Sigh. I hate shopping. And 16 weeks is suddenly seeming short, when I figure in 1-2 days cut off by transit time. I will be back with a more targeted itinerary.

Now, what do I like to do? Tough one. When I travel my mantra is “Now for something completely different!”. Museums and cathedrals? Sure, but each has to be unique in some way. Famous landmarks? I suppose I have that engrained in me as a tourist that I must see the Eiffel Tower, etc, but I think that is more for the folks back home. I have really enjoyed riding and hiking/walking on the great trails in Bavaria, urban and rural. It’s fun to walk through the woods and find and inn every few miles. I’m not crazy about big cities, but since I don’t normally seek them out they ARE on my list (something different). I do like to wander about the streets but probably not like RS (blind alley? Not without a film crew behind me). I also like people watching from the café/biergarten. But put me next to water (river, lake, ocean doesn’t matter) and I will smile. Watersports (in, on, under, around water) would be great, but unless I hit the far south, out of season. And I don’t ski anymore so that eliminates a lot of winter activity. This all does not narrow things down but it does say I am up for almost anything. OH… I do not “shop”. Did I mention I hate shopping? I don’t buy souvenirs, except maybe for my house-sitter or special people but I don’t go into shops just for fun.

Modes of travel. Given the length of stay I have thought about the care buy/lease thing out of France. Thoughts anyone? Personal experience? Otherwise mostly trains, and buses. I have read plenty of horror stories about the regional economy airlines to want to avoid them. I’m in no hurry eh?

Packing light: CPAP is more delicate and bulky than heavy. Add to that my technology (phone, laptop, ipod, camera, all those power cables and accessories), and a pack fills very quickly. Not much space left for clothes for beach, trail and opera house. I do need a new travel wardrobe – SUGGESTIONS? Note that I am 6’1” and 290# and can’t just buy off the rack, and certainly not a rack in Paris or Rome! Finding something that is long enough in the sleeves is hard enough that I simply do not wear LS shirts anymore. This topic probably should go into a different forum eventually.

Ed: To add to the confusion: how did Landstuhl get to be SE of Frankfurt? :) Well, um, maybe because the “E” is right next to the “W” on the keyboard? Or maybe I have to add “directionally challenged” to my list. :-)

Should I respond individually via personal message? I’m new here. I don’t want to be a bother to individuals nor do I want to make these posts incredibly long and wander forever.

Thanks so much everyone!

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
5848 posts

When you get an email that there's a new reply to your post, it says "A topic you posted on the Rick Steves Travel Forum, ''.............' has received a reply from Xxxx. To view and and respond to this reply, please visit this topic in the forum. Visit this topic is a link directly to your post. then just scroll down, or use the page-down button.

You don't have to respond individually to each and every poster. If you want to ask more questions of a specific poster, you can either ask within your thread - usually they come back and will respond. You can always PM someone too. It's very nice if you come back to your post and acknowledge the answers, let us know how your planning is going, and what decisions you've made.

But the best is when you've come back from your adventure and join in the conversation to help the next poster.

Posted by Joel
Sacramento, CA USA
38 posts

link from email works perfectly and even prompts for login when I go to 'reply'. thanks.

Posted by Joel
Sacramento, CA USA
38 posts

John, thanks for ideas. I am definitely going to be working on the hub and spoke model, reducing the number of far-flung places, and increasing the local experience. Others suggest referring to guide books, maps, Google etc. Oh yeah, I have stacks of books and maps (I still like paper) and an growing enormity of web links - all of which caused total chaos in my brain. As I pare down my desires I am sure those will be valuable, but right now they are just a lot of static confusing me.

I am also bailing on the 'fitting in by dressing like a local' theme and will go with what I know. Shell, fleece, merino wool long undies (AKA "base layers"), etc. I definitely know layering, but all of that is like Marmot/REI tech gear. I run hot anyway so I am not going to worry as much about cold, so long as I can stay dry I will be ok. Now if I can find a sport coat and dress pants in technical fabrics I'll be in business. :-)

Posted by Joel
Sacramento, CA USA
38 posts

Chani - I have to say that your post put me on the right track of not trying to do everything all at once (which is my default setting). thanks for that final push. I was not aware of the Tarjeta Dorada, but that is even better. I am not yet used to asking for senior discounts (still in denial?) but anything helps these days. See, I knew this forum would be a gold mine!

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
6320 posts

Joel, good for you! If you sre eligible for over-60 discounts, take them!

One thing to consider lightening your load: I like paper books but now all my guidebooks are purchased as iBooks or eBooks. You can highlight, bookmark, etc., and not carry the weight (or take up the packing space) of paperbooks. I do take paper maps, though.

You have time to buy one (maybe an RS snapshot guide, not much of a $$ investment) and see if you like it.

Posted by anjospot
4 posts

4 months, huh ? You should go to Portugal too. They are friendly and cheap because that's where I came from. :)

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
3158 posts

Don't worry about taking your CPAP. I put mine in a day backpack with the transformer, 220 volt converter and a couple of cameras with no problem. They're tough enough to travel with.

My clothes go into your standard 21" rolling carry on bag. A single traveler can wear a pair of starched pants or jeans for 2 weeks if they don't get soiled. I only used 1/2 the clothes I took on a 17 day trip. Remember you'll never see the people you come in contact with again.

At many of our stops, we had washers and dryers available--washing clothes periodically.

We used to be long distance rental car travelers, however Italy's $9.50 per U.S. gallon gasoline made us realize the plus' of taking travel a little slower. We like to stay in one place 4 nights--doing day trips. And we don't hesitate to travel from one end of the continent to the other by cheap budget air carriers.

And remember that you cannot see every tourist sight and every place in Europe. It doesn't take long for all the churches and art museums to start looking like each other.

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
5848 posts

David - A single traveler can wear a pair of starched pants or jeans for 2 weeks if they don't get soiled. I only used 1/2 the clothes I took on a 17 day trip. Remember you'll never see the people you come in contact with again.

And I know why you'll never see those people again - they're avoiding you !!

:-) sorry - couldn't resist.

Posted by Lee
1017 posts

Non Schengen zone time should be easy to sort out given the time in the UK and Ireland at end. I suggest you give Turkey a serious look- not Schengen as is Cyprus. The whole region including Greece is fantastic.

Posted by Joel
Sacramento, CA USA
38 posts

Thanks for the posts everyone. I just got back from a couple weeks test run on "light packing" and yes, I discovered that there were clothes that never were removed from my pack. The CPAP is a total pain and is not travel-friendly for a variety of reasons (one being that I void the warranty if I use an extension cord). I might have to drop the $$ to buy a travel one on my own since insurance won't cover one for another 5 years.
I SO know that I could, like RS, spend years exploring and barely scratch the surface of things to see and do. The purpose for me now is a cultural adventure, not a tour of attractions, although they will be there along the way. And hopefully I will find a few people along the way that I will see again - but they will have had to accept me for my wrinkled clothes and all. :-)